Ujima Enterprises Incorporated (UEI), is an educational, cultural, and community service non-profit organization, created to address horrendous dropout and underachievement rates of African-American children in the Kalamazoo Public Schools.
The first UEI program, The Ujima Project, was established in 1993, to address academic performance, attitude, and behavior of children in school. At the time, the missing component of every remedy for the epidemic of underachievement and failure among African-American youth was found to be cultural identification. Now known as ‘Ujima Sasa!,’ the program is an academic success program of one-to-one mentoring, tutoring, and cultural instruction for children from grade four through high school graduation.
Ujima Sasa! is one of the keystone programs sponsored by Ujima Enterprises. The other is Ujima Parents As Teachers (UPAT), an early learning program which assists parents with their children’s development from prenatal to kindergarten ages. People of African descent in America have struggled with cultural disconnection and disablement throughout their sojourn in America. The work of sociologist Emile Durkheim explains the debilitating
effects of anomie, or cultural disconnect, on human achievement. Anomie is described as “a condition where social and/or moral norms are confused, unclear, or simply not present”. Also, Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary has described Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, which remains an invisible, unspoken force in the lives of Black people in this country.
The name of our program is both its meaning and its purpose. Ujima, meaning “collective work and responsibility” and Sasa. “Ujima Sasa!” is an opportunity for people of African descent to strengthen community and achieve better outcomes for our children by restoring the character-building values that are the foundation of African-American communities. Hard work, respect for elders, proper behavior, and commitment to the common good. Together with parents, Ujima Sasa! has worked to close the achievement gap between Black and White children.
The study and application of African cultural heritage has proven to be an organizing and healing force that captures the attention, pride, identity, and desire to achieve in African American children. Of the original class of twenty-four students, all have graduated high school; and ninety-two percent continued their education or advanced skills training. The longer children stay in Ujima, the greater their chance of graduating high school.